Marc Marquez' Moto2 championship assault has just suffered a major setback. The Catalunya Caixa rider has been punished for an incident after FP1 at Phillip Island ended, and will start Sunday's Moto2 race from the back of the grid.
The incident occurred at the end of the first session of free practice for Moto2 for the Australian Grand Prix. After a crash early in the session, which saw him stuck in the pits for most of practice, Marquez was sent back out onto the track with about a minute to go in the session. He set out on a hot lap, but did not make it all the way round in time to get in a second lap. He continued around the first two corners at high speed, and at Turn 3, ran into the back of Ratthapark Wilairot, who was slowing down again after a practice start. The speed differential between Marquez and Wilairot meant the crash was a big one, the Spaniard lucky to walk away with just a cut on his brow, while Wilairot was airlifted to the local hospital, where scans revealed that despite injuries to his leg and back, he had no broken bones.
The crash was costly in two ways for Marquez. Firstly, he was punished by Race Direction for dangerous riding, and handed a one-minute time penalty to be added to his qualifying time on Saturday, leaving him to start from the back of the grid. His team appealed against the penalty, saying that Marquez had not seen the Thai rider, but the FIM stewards upheld the ruling. But the crash also cost Marquez his bike: the 2012 Suter chassis which Marquez had been using since Aragon - of which he had just one - was written off in the crash, damaged so badly that repair is almost impossible. The Spaniard will be forced to use an older 2011 chassis; though Marquez was already quick on the older bike, the newer chassis offered some significant improvements.
The penalty led to much discussion both inside and outside the paddock, with opinion split over whether the penalty was too harsh or too light. Whatever time Marquez sets during qualifying, having a minute added to it means that he will always be starting from the back of the grid, with the other 38 entries starting ahead of him. Marquez will still have to set a lap within the 107% qualifying limit, however, though the extra minute added to his QP time will be added after it is measured against the 107% limit rather than before. The rule under which Marquez was punished allows a number of punishments, including a time penalty, ride through, fine, loss of championship points or suspension. Both a ride through or loss of points are not appropriate in such a case, as these are usually only applied to incidents which occur during the race. Some in the paddock felt that a suspension was in order, pointing to the example of John Hopkins at Motegi in 2003, while others pointed out that a minute was an excessive time penalty, especially as anything over the 107% mark (for Moto2, just under 7 seconds) is essentially meaningless. And the objection to imposing a fine is that this is something that Marquez' team, the richest in the paddock, could easily afford and it could set a precedent, punishing poorer teams disproportionately.
Below is the official press release containing the decision of Race Direction:
2011 FIM Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix
Iveco Australian Grand Prix: decision of the Race Direction
On Friday 14th october after passing the chequered flag at the end of the 1st Free Practice rider Marc Márquez (SPA) rode in an irresponsible manner, causing danger to rider Ratthapark Wilairot (THA) which is an infringement to the Art. 1.21.2 of the 2011 FIM Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix Regulations. The Race Direction has decided to impose a time penalty of 1 minute to be added to the qualification time of Marc Márquez.
An appeal has been lodged.
The FIM Stewards have confirmed the decision of the Race Direction.
The decision of the FIM Stewards is final.